On May 25, 2022, James G. Thomas presented “Mississippi Mahjar: The Lebanese in Mississippi” as part of the History Is Lunch series. Jackson, Mississippi residents Al Katool and Dolores Thomas Ulmer and Greenville native Mary Tonos Brantley joinrf Thomas to discuss their experiences as people of Lebanese descent growing up in Mississippi.
Thomas interviewed dozens of people to produce a project that documents and interprets the lives of first- and subsequent-generation Lebanese Mississippians. “It’s an oral record of their forbears’ experiences of settling in a foreign land where they knew few people, did not speak the language, and had to create their own occupations,” Thomas said. “Ultimately, the project is the collective story of maintaining an ethnic identity while assimilating into a new culture.”
The Lebanese in Mississippi: An Oral History—which can be found online at www.thelebaneseinmississippi.com—is a collection of memories that builds a collective understanding of why such a large number of Lebanese-Syrians left “the Mountain” and traveled west as far as the Americas. They illustrate how and why Lebanese families came to Mississippi, what their lives here were like, and how they made a living and found their places within that place, all while maintaining an ethnic identity.
James G. Thomas Jr. is a Lebanese Mississippian and Delta native. He holds BAs in English and philosophy and an MA in Southern Studies from the University of Mississippi, where he is associate director for publications at the Center for the Study of Southern Culture. Thomas directs the center’s annual Oxford Conference for the Book and edits their online journal Study the South and newsmagazine the Southern Register. He is editor of Conversations with Barry Hannah, coeditor of Faulkner and the Black Literatures of the Americas, Faulkner and History, Faulkner and Print Culture, and Faulkner and the Native South.
History Is Lunch is sponsored by the John and Lucy Shackelford Charitable Fund of the Community Foundation for Mississippi. The weekly lecture series of the Mississippi Department of Archives and History explores different aspects of the state's past. The hour-long programs are held in the Craig H. Neilsen Auditorium of the Museum of Mississippi History and Mississippi Civil Rights Museum building at 222 North Street in Jackson.